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Various Positions: A novel [Deckle Edge] [Paperback]

Martha Schabas
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 28 2011

Nuanced, fresh, and gorgeously well-written, Martha Schabas' extraordinary debut novel takes us inside the beauty and brutality of professional ballet, and the young women striving to make it in that world. Shy and introverted, and trapped between the hyper-sexualized world of her teenaged friends and her dysfunctional family, Georgia is only at ease when she's dancing. Fortunately, she's an unusually talented and promising dancer. When she is accepted into the notoriously exclusive Royal Ballet Academy--Canada's preeminent dance school--Georgia thinks she has made the perfect escape. In ballet, she finds the exhilarating control and power she lacks elsewhere in her life: physical, emotional and, increasingly, sexual.
 
This dynamic is nowhere more obvious than in Georgia's relationship with Artistic Director Roderick Allen. As Roderick singles her out as a star and subjects her to increasingly vicious training, Georgia obsesses about becoming his perfect student, disciplined and sexless. But a disturbing incident with a stranger on the subway, coupled with her dawning recognition of the truth of her parents' unhappy marriage, causes her to radically reassess her ideas about physical boundaries--a reassessment that threatens both Roderick's future at the academy and Georgia's ambitions as a ballerina.


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Review

Shortlisted for the Ontario Library Association’s 2012 Evergreen Award
Quill & Quire - "Best Books of 2011"
The Globe and Mail - "Best First Fictions of 2011"

"The year's best debut."
NOW Magazine

“Schabas's dialogue is often extraordinarily expressive, compressed to a tight code for swirling inner worlds. . . . This is a wonderful, courageous debut.”
The Globe and Mail
 
“A thought-provoking look at femininity and sex, made all the more confusing by that ultimate contact sport—ballet.”
Kirkus Reviews
 
“Schabas skillfully weaves themes of power, communication, trust, intimacy, and betrayal through this character-driven tale, as 14-year-old ballet dancer Georgia struggles to find a place where she belongs and people she can trust.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“…Various Positions is a provocative, dark,  and challenging read, which provides a fresh take on difficult questions about human nature in our contemporary world.”
Quill & Quire

“Martha Schabas is clearly a natural with long-form fiction. . . .The sign of a truly good novel is one where your personal interest in whatever topic or milieu (in this case, The Royal Toronto Ballet Academy) doesn’t matter.  It is a good story told in an original way, and if it were about monster trucks, another thing I’m less than enthused about, I would still be intrigued because Schabas writes so well. . . . Schabas is a writer in full control of her craft, and her debut book is a worth and important addition to this seasons list.”
—Zoe Whittall, National Post

“[A] read-in-one-gulp debut.”
The Toronto Star

“Beautifully descriptive and disturbing. . . .Schabas’s prose is engaging and provocative, full of images and ideas that dance through the mind.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“A highly realistic, totally gut-wrenching portrayal of teenage awkwardness and acting out. Those unflattering realities make for a compelling contrast with the flawless, fragile elegance of the ballet.”
Here Magazine

“Rarely does a debut novel nail its subject with such precision, but Martha Schabas has taken the confusion of teenage girls and the world of ballet to create a stunning novel. . . . Various Positions is amazing. Its insight into the world of girls, ballet, and lame parents is pitch perfect. Ballet fans will appreciate the candour of this novel, but its appeal is much broader than that audience. Various Positions is an outstanding novel, full of wisdom and language that dances across the page.”
The Vancouver Sun

About the Author

Martha Schabas' articles, book reviews and fiction have appeared in The Globe and Mail, The New Quarterly, ELLE Canada, Broken Pencil, and Maisonneuve. She holds an M.A. in English Literature from Queen’s University, and an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, where she received the David Higham Literary Award. In 2012, CBC Books named Martha one of the “10 Canadian women writers you need to read now.” She lives in Toronto.


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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Love It! Jan. 13 2014
By sukh
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
i started off dreading this book. i had to read it for an assignment for my ISU but i couldnt put it down! i read it cover to cover in 2 days! AWESOME TO READ.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Chillingly perceptive Feb. 17 2012
By Dee18
Format:Paperback
Georgia Slade has just been accepted into Toronto's prestigious Royal Ballet Academy. At just fourteen, Georgia is one of the youngest students, and most talented. With her ballerina muse, Gelsey Kirkland, in mind, Georgia strives for faultlessness in her dancing. But as Georgia tries to command her body to perfection, her home life is unravelling.

Her mother, a university lecturer, is becoming increasingly erratic and embarrassing. Her emotional theatrics are nothing new, but in recent weeks they have got worse and worse - swinging between rage and deep depression. Georgia notices that her mother's mood swings are focused on her father, alternately trying to gain his attention and rile him. An important psychiatrist, Georgia's father is rarely home, and when he is he pays little attention to his wife and shows clear disdain for Georgia's less-than-academic, dancing pursuits.

Georgia's only solace is in ballet, but even as she lives her dream studying at the Academy, she starts to notice cracks in the fantasy. Her fellow dancers are catty and clawing; beautiful girls all sharing the same aspirations of stardom, they quickly turn on the weak and expose miniscule flaws for personal one-upmanship. But even more frightening than the barbs of her fellow students is the critical eye her esteemed dance instructor, Roderick Allen. He is renowned and revered, known for his harsh treatment of young students and merciless critique of the dancers.

As Georgia tries to make sense of her collapsing home life, she draws closer and closer to Roderick, desperate for his approval...

`Various Positions' is the debut novel from Canadian author, Martha Schabas.

The novel opens on a scandal.
Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Enthralling Book July 18 2011
By Susan P
Format:Paperback
I'd read a a couple of short stories by this author and was really curious to read her first novel. I was blown away. It's a story about a twisted 14-year-old girl who misinterprets the world around her - particularly the attentions of her male ballet teacher - and does something unthinkable. Schabas brings her trademark wryness to the prose, but here it's infused with real depth and tenderness. Some points are so excruciatingly real that they're difficult to read. In a way, it reminded me of the psychologically intense interior monologues of some of Dostoevsky's novellas -- you're trapped inside the head of the protagonist, and all of her misconceptions feel true. I couldn't put it down.
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4.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts... Nov. 16 2011
By Reader Writer Runner TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Martha Schabas' first novel wastes no time in hooking the reader; by page six, "Various Positions" has already displayed its eloquence and corporeality.

With a handful of elite adolescents, Georgia Slade enters Toronto's Academy of Ballet and encounters Roderick, the merciless artistic director. The dance program bursts with psychological warfare as students must endure both Roderick's and each other's emotional bombardments. But callow, desirous Georgia soon discovers that ballet encompasses something more onerous than physical and mental hardship: sexual tension. Juggling her own longing with her erotic power, she hatches a crazy plan that climaxes in a perfectly forthright, sensitive and reflexive scene.

Although the lead-up to Georgia's outrageous act at times drowns in pornographic undertones, the novel ultimately personifies the kidnapping of innocence by surging hormones. Schabas's dialogue is extraordinarily tight, expressive and heart-breaking, filling the reader with a desire to comfort and protect the young protagonist. It may inspire controversy and resistance but "Various Positions" succeeds as a wonderfully courageous debut.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 2.7 out of 5 stars  34 reviews
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Engaging writing, but horrible characters Jan. 23 2012
By titania86 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Georgia is a teenage ballet dancer who is largely unhappy with her life outside of ballet. She doesn't have any true friends and her dysfunctional family grates on her nerves. After being accepted to the Royal Ballet Academy, her world is thrown into turmoil. Roderick, the unforgiving and harsh ballet instructor, expects absolute perfection and isn't afraid to point out the harsh realities to his students. He singles out Georgia as a star and someone to emulate for the other students. As a result, Georgia starts to interpret attraction from his actions and she fantasizes constantly about what their relationship would be like in her head. Is Georgia's fantasy real or is she completely delusional? How will the repercussions of her actions effect her future?

The description for Various Positions read kind of like a Black Swan for teens, but it was actually a lot different. I had a lot of problems with the book, but there were some things I liked. The writing was engaging and kept me reading despite the problems I had with the novel. Georgia was an interesting character with very little connection to others in her life. I really felt for her in the first half of the novel because of her abusive, horrible friends and her constantly fighting parents. The way she thought about her sexuality and the way she explored it is something I haven't seen before in teen fiction. Typically, girls in YA novels don't seem to be interested in their own sexuality outside of a relationship, which I don't find very realistic. As in Black Swan, Georgia viewed sexuality as horrible and thought ballet was ideal without it until she met her ballet teacher. She believed he wanted her to be completely virginal while dancing and outside of dance he wanted the opposite extreme. This aspect never really developed into anything meaningful, which was disappointing.

The rest of the book was a disappointment. Ballet wasn't featured in the book very much despite the marketing and back cover description. In the latter half of the novel, Georgia was simply an unapologetically horrible person. She put a girl with body image issues on a very strict diet, contributing to and worsening the girl's anorexia. Afterwards, Georgia's only concern was for people finding out her own part in it instead of having concern for the girl who became practically skeletal with her help. Her imagined relationship with her teacher was horribly damaging to everyone involved in the end.

Various Positions was a strange read with some interesting concepts and good narrative, but was overall disappointing and maddening.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Complicated, fascinating, and frightening Jan. 12 2012
By Doc Occula - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I'm not a dancer, although I work with teen dancers, and I found 'Various Positions' to be alternately exquisite, disgusting and intensely truthful. The author, a woman obviously experienced in the world of ballet, pulls no punches with her characterization of a teenage ballerina shoehorned into an existence which would crush most people. Georgia's life - with its physical demands, removal from 'normal' society and future pressures - is a bizarre one. Her perception of her mother's relationship with her father is seen through a filter of madness because she has no understanding of how people are actually supposed to relate; this precipitates the terrible trajectory of her character down a spiral of teenaged stupidity and manhandled sexual awakenings which would make anyone shudder.

The power of this, though, is that it rings true, no matter how outraged a reader - teen or adult - might feel. Children make mistakes. Imagine a child treated like an animal in a zoo; what kind of life mistakes might she make? How could those mistakes tear family, friends and school apart? And, most intriguingly, how would those mistakes affect her in the long run? Would she understand what she's done?

The author handled her protagonist's character with an extremely deft touch. As the story develops and things begin to deteriorate, it's only then that we realize what kind of person Georgia really is, beneath the false veneer of a 'pretty dancer.' Yes, there's a great deal of sexuality in this book; it's not for young teens. However, I think it's handled in an unusually honest way. The awkwardness of adolescence and how all-consuming it feels to grow up is at the core of 'Various Positions,' and it's definitely a bitter pill for the reader to swallow.

My only real cavil with this work is the Canadian tone of some of the syntax, which can get a bit distracting. I also wish the beautiful cover had a model wearing pointe shoes - she looks a bit silly wearing canvas slippers with satin ribbons.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars NOT for a Young Adult Audience July 3 2013
By Melissa (i swim for oceans) - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
View the full review here:
[...]

Georgia has a God-given talent at ballet, and she has the opportunity of a lifetime dancing in a a prestigious ballet academy where she can live her dream. It's her escape from a crazy family and circle of friends she struggles to understand. It's the perfect chance for her to stand out and rise above it all, but something begins to creep into her focus. Roderick, her dance instructor, seems to find her a star, and there's something there. She can't quite put her finger on it, but it feels tangible and electric, and it could very well kill her career before it ever begins...as well as Roderick's future.

Guys, I have a confession to make. I'm addicted to ballerina books. I danced for about 12 years, but let me tell you; I'm built like a swimmer, not a dancer. So, I think I live vicariously through the actors in films and the characters in books. Needless to say, my veritable obsession made reading Various Positions by newcomer on the YA scene, Martha Schabas, a no-brainer. Written from the complex mind of a 14-year-old girl, this book is a no-holds-barred account of the bizarre hidden world of students and mentors, smothered by a mask of dancing, pointe shoes and competition. Written with a deftly unique hand, it's an insider's perspective on dysfunction, disorder and, frankly, chaos.

I can tell you right now that I've struggled with writing this review, but I feel that I need to put it up to almost wrap my head around what I just read. Various Positions is hyper-sexualized, extremely uncomfortable and disturbing. We're given a main character who, as a young teen, is painted as being very naive. Yet, somehow in her naivety, Georgia has stumbled across the allure of sex, and it seems to be the only thing that crosses the young girl's mind. Ever. She researches relationships between older men and young girls. She manipulates and deceives to get what she wants. She becomes nearly infatuated with an internet pornstar. The level of dysfunction in the novel was utterly appalling, and I have to admit I was rather horrified at the content within the pages. I was expecting a dance novel, and instead got a how-to book on disordered eating, inappropriate statutory relationships and near pedophilia, shrouded in a very thin veil of dance. Perhaps I missed the mark with this book, but I was hoping to see a development of relationships through the dysfunction, but only managed to watch Georgia and her classmates become more haggard and vulgar as the story progressed. If I'm being extraordinarily blunt, I don't really know what the theme or plot of the novel was because it felt so messy (in more ways than one).

I absolutely hate giving bad reviews because I know what authors put into their books, but I have be honest and say that Various Positions simply did not work for me. I'll even go so far as to say it is marketed towards the wrong audience, as I do not think the content is appropriate for the YA market. I give it a 1 out of 5, and I recommend it only to adult audiences who like issue-driven and disturbing contemporary novels.

I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Ordinary and Disappointing Aug. 9 2012
By Tachi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I was so disappointed in this book, very little on ballet or dance and more on a young girl who had a crush on a teacher and as result ruins his career.

The story seem to go nowhere and offered the reader nothing....a no go book for me sadly
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I found it lacking April 28 2012
By Tiffany A. Harkleroad - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Georgia loves ballet, and wants nothing more than to be a successful ballerina. When she is accepted into a prestigious ballet school, she finds a way to not only pursue her dreams, but to escape from her family and social problems. She is quickly frustrated by the other girls who seem do occupied with boys, and remains determined to stay focused. This focus impresses one of her teachers, with whom she becomes fixated.

I kind of felt like this book was a bit of a "Lolita in reverse" situation. One look at the description will tell you that this book deals with sexual themes, both in appropriate and inappropriate situations. This may make many readers uncomfortable, so be forewarned. However, I think the book delivers exactly what the description states. Yes, Georgia is dealing with sexuality, as do most teenagers in some manner. Yes, the characters in the book are dysfunctional, as are most families. This is not a book that is going to make you feel light and happy, but I believe that it is actually an accurate portrayal of what life can be like for a teenage girl in a world of high pressure.

The storyline is sad, and slightly dark, but I personally do not mind that. I liked that, while the action is set in the world of ballet, that there is not a lot of intense focus on the technicalities of ballet. I personally am not terribly interested in ballet, I never wanted to be a ballerina, but I do think it made for an interesting angle and setting, so for me, the amount of dance in the book was just right.

I did have a hard time getting into the head of Georgia, and in general found the characters a little weak. I never really felt very connected to the story. This was simply a book to read, not one to get lost in. I felt like the story never really went anywhere. No one learned or gained anything. There was no resolution to most of the situations in the story. It is for these reasons that I found the book lacking.

Also, I rarely comment on covers, but I must say, I hate this cover. They really missed the mark here.

This book is too sexual for young teens, but older teens and twentysomethings might enjoy the book, particularly those interested in of having experience of the world of ballet. This is not a book for those who look to lose themselves in a story, but is fine for readers just looking for something to read to pass the time.
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